Wayne Memorial faces ‘critical’ COVID rates

Hospital urges proactive measures

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 12/21/21

HONESDALE, PA — Cases of COVID-19 are climbing high as ever in some parts of northeast PA, and Wayne Memorial Hospital—the only hospital across all of Wayne and Pike counties—is …

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Wayne Memorial faces ‘critical’ COVID rates

Hospital urges proactive measures

Posted

HONESDALE, PA — Cases of COVID-19 are climbing high as ever in some parts of northeast PA, and Wayne Memorial Hospital—the only hospital across all of Wayne and Pike counties—is feeling the strain.

Crowded COVID unit, ER

Incoming hospital CEO James Pettinato said that the hospital has been “inundated” with COVID patients and is calling the situation there “critical.” For the past several weeks, Wayne Memorial has been treating up to 19 patients a day in its COVID wing, which can only handle a maximum of 21 people in total.

Worse yet, the hospital’s emergency department has been seeing up to 10 daily patients who require immediate attention due to COVID. For a smaller-sized hospital, that’s a major burden on resources and staff, Pettinato said. It also means longer wait times for other non-COVID patients.

“For our size hospital and the resources we provide, seven to 10 COVID patients coming through our emergency room significantly place stress on the ER to care for those other patients,” he said. “We’re a community hospital; those 10 COVID patients really do put a strain on the system. When they are coming to the hospital, a lot of times they are very acutely ill. They need a lot of services because of just how sick they are.”

Pettinato said that while the hospital is still able to take care of high-priority cases like strokes, heart attacks, traumas and other critical illness, it’s only going to get more difficult to treat those patients as COVID-19 cases continue to soar.

“The people who are feeling this [strain] right now… is what I call the “lump-and-bump brigade.” The minor injury people, the minor illnesses people who have waits in the emergency room upward of six hours on average during peak times of the day: That is not Wayne Memorial’s typical situation.”

The inundation has been “absolutely” stressful for the doctors, nurses and other staff members, Pettinato said. The hardest part about it, he told the River Reporter, is seeing severe illnesses that could have been prevented if swift, more proactive action had been taken.

“One of the most stressful things I think our staff is encountering right now is seeing when the severity of illness could have been avoided, and people for whatever reason didn’t come in quick enough,” he said. “It’s happening so frequently that it’s wearing on the staff, that this was preventable to the degree it reached. I’m not saying prevent COVID infection, I’m saying prevent the severity of the illness.”

 
 COVID-19 resources for Pennsylvania

To find general information and data on COVID-19, PA residents can visit https://www.health.pa.gov and click on the “Coronavirus” button at the top of the page. You’ll be taken to a page that has two dashboards: one about COVID-19 case rates, and another on vaccination rates statewide. Both show data for the entire state by default, but users can narrow in on specific county numbers as well.

For more aggregate data, residents can use the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System dashboard from the PA state health department at https://bit.ly/3GW5ogw. This page is updated every Friday at 12 noon and tallies up the number of cases over the previous week, the rate of positive test results, the rate of hospitalizations, the number of patients on ventilators, and the number of emergency room visits related to COVID. This page can also display either statewide data or specific county numbers.

Other sites for tracking COVID-19 trends:

www.mayoclinic.org/coronavirus-covid-19/map/pennsylvania

www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html

www.bit.ly/SpotlightPATracker

 

Hospitalization prevention

Hoping to reverse the trend, the hospital is rushing to educate residents about early detection and treatment of COVID symptoms using the medication Regeneron. A monoclonal antibody treatment, Regeneron has been found to be effective in lessening the impacts of COVID-19 infection. But there’s a limited timeframe for when it can be used.

“There’s a narrow window of opportunity to be eligible for the Regeneron, which is within 10 days of either symptom onset or a COVID positive test… whatever occurred first,” he said. “What we’re finding… is people have been showing up outside of the eligibility window.”

The reason the timeline is so important for this drug is that past a certain point, administering it to a COVID patient can actually have an adverse effect on their symptoms, Pettinato said. But if more COVID-positive patients took it in time, they could likely avoid needing to go to the hospital at all.

“We are achieving good results with this outpatient treatment and see it helping to decrease admissions to our inpatient COVID unit,” Pettinato said. “In fact, it is very rare that someone who receives this outpatient treatment has to be admitted to the hospital.”

Getting vaccinated

Regeneron is no substitute for getting immunized against COVID-19 through a vaccine, which the hospital continues to urge residents to do. In a recent effort to boost vaccination rates, Wayne Memorial began a billboard campaign featuring the faces of various local healthcare providers with the message, “Your health is our only agenda: Vaccinate. It works. It’s safe. It’s time.”

At press time, just over half—around 53 percent—of Wayne County residents are fully vaccinated. Less than half—about 48 percent—of Pike residents are fully vaccinated.

Judging just by the kinds of responses the hospital gets to its posts on Facebook, Pettinato said that “a high degree of misinformation” remains surrounding the topic of vaccines and COVID-19 treatment. Some have even denied that the hospital is truly seeing the numbers of patients it’s been reporting.

“One comment was, ‘The place is a ghost town. They don’t have all these patients,’” Pettinato said. “I’m glad that people think that, because then we’ve done a really good job of managing the load, managing the stress, without looking like we can’t handle it. Because then the reality is we are doing our job, but it is extremely stressful. And when I have a COVID unit that is at three-quarters of its capacity—and on certain days, on certain hours, at full capacity—you can’t say that those patients aren’t here.”

Echoing his sentiments from several months ago when the delta variant was on the rise, Pettinato says he can only speak about what he sees coming through his hospital, which is that the unvaccinated tend to get sicker and stay sicker longer than the vaccinated.

“The numbers at Wayne Memorial are very clear that the unvaccinated are definitely the much higher percentage of people who are critically ill, need far more care, and have far longer hospitalizations than the vaccinated people,” he said.

He added that the hospital does see some vaccinated patients who have gotten sick and need hospitalization, but it’s usually due to some underlying health issue, with minimal oxygen requirements and “not to the intensity where you literally will have a nurse standing at a bedside for six out of their eight hours on their shift with one patient. That is clearly in the unvaccinated arena.”

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